Jewish World Review March 4, 2002 / 20 Adar, 5762
For example, the federal government doesn't want you to smoke because the cost of cancer and heart disease is enormous, and much of it is borne by the feds in the form of Medicare payments. So the government has slapped huge taxes on tobacco products with the hope that nicotine addicts will cut down their habits or quit all together.
Now some believe this is a noble thing. But it is actually punitive -- the state is punishing people who like tobacco.
At times, the state punishes people by seizing land that is needed for public projects and paying the landowner what the local government thinks is fair. The State also assesses your property and taxes it pretty much any way it wants. Yes, you have a right to vote the taxers out of office every few years, but you'll rarely get a refund.
The Founding Fathers were very wary of the power of the state to punish individual Americans and said flat-out in the Preamble to the Constitution that the government was formed to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare."
It is the "general welfare" clause that concerns me the most.
Right now, many big cities in America have tremendous traffic problems. Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City -- just to name a few -- are choked with vehicles for most of the day. Instead of coming up with innovative solutions to alleviate the traffic mess -- which, by the way, wastes tons of fuel and heavily pollutes the atmosphere -- our leaders have decided to punish those of us who drive cars.
In lower New York, the Department of Transportation has literally made it impossible for traffic to flow smoothly. The traffic geniuses have blocked portions of 80 percent of the main highways with construction projects at the same time. Instead of fixing one highway and then venturing onto another, the New York City metropolitan area is paralyzed by hundreds of separate construction sites manned by a few workers, as opposed to a few sites manned by a battalion of workers.
The result, of course, is massive delay almost everywhere.
The strategy behind the chaos is simple. The state of New York wants people to take mass transit. The state is losing billions on buses and subways, and wants to punish people who have the audacity to want to drive instead of sitting crammed in a filthy subway car.
Using the World Trade Center attack as a club, New York City has now banned cars having only one passenger from entering the city during the morning rush hour. That may well be unconstitutional, but it is also understandable because the city has lost miles of street space due to the attack.
What is not understandable is the truck situation. All over downstate New York, trucks are allowed to double park -- blocking streets and spewing pollution into the air. If the state of New York were really concerned about "promoting the general welfare," no trucks would be allowed to do this.
But the trucker's union is powerful, and so is the construction union. That is why the general welfare is being overrun by the special interests, and the powers that be in New York are punishing the regular folks who have to drive.
It is very likely there is a situation like this where you live. Think about it. Is your child being punished by having to go to a crumbling public school, while a gleaming new sports stadium paid for by public funds sits majestically just a few miles away? There are plenty of examples like that.
My solution is a general one. Let's make government a bit more "citizen friendly." Let's demand that politicians stop doing stupid and punitive things to us. If you see a disgraceful situation that the "public servants" should address, write to those suckers. And if they don't respond, actively campaign against them.
The only way things are going to change is if those of us who
are being punished start our own personal Boston Tea Parties. Let 'em know
02/25/02: Who's responsible?